The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have about $60 million in available cap space and are in a terrific position to upgrade their team by signing talent to help out the back seven and offensive line. However, the most important thing for the Bucs to do this offseason is to re-sign one of their own; defensive end Michael Bennett.
He may not be a household name, but there are plenty of quality players in the NFL who aren’t recognizable names to the average fan. Bennett is one of those guys, and he broke out in a huge way last season. According to the Pro Football Focus, he was responsible for 38 pressures on the quarterback and is a restricted free agent that this team cannot let walk. The Bucs need to lock him up, and the reasons go beyond his ability as a pass rusher.
For as good as Bennett is at getting to the quarterback, he is even more devastating in run defense. Among all 4-3 ends/3-4 linebackers, Michael Bennett was one of the best five run stoppers last season. He is an extremely disruptive player who can muscle by tackles with ease and is also equally adept and beating them with speed.
Forget sacks, because they don’t tell the whole story and are based on factors that the pass rusher can control. What the 26-year-old defensive end can control is getting pressure on the quarterback, and he was one of the better defensive ends in football at doing that. Adrian Clayborn may have double the sacks (8 to 4), but he isn’t as good as Bennett. In fact, Bennett holds the advantage in EPA/G 2.36 to 2.2.8, which basically means that he is slightly better at helping his team score. EPA, however, does not take into account pressures or run defense, so it is slightly flawed and favors Clayborn. While the rookie is the better pass rusher than Bennett, he has nothing on Bennett on run defense.
Michael Bennett is a playmaker at defensive end who can quickly penetrate and disrupt plays in the opposition’s backfield, which is all the more important given the Bucs struggles with tackling. He alleviates pressure off of the back seven by pressuring the QB into poor decisions and by making life more difficult for the running back and offensive linemen. That is extremely important given the inconsistency displayed by the secondary and linebackers.
Tampa Bay must ensure that Bennett is on this roster next season, and they need to protect him with a second round tender and lock him up as soon as possible. There are twenty teams out there who would love to get their hands on a young, run-stuffing force like Michael Bennett who also doubles as a quality option as a pass rusher. This guy is one of the better ends in the league, and all a skeptical fan needs to do is watch his domination against the Dallas Cowboys and Indianapolis Colts in Week 4.
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